By Walter Broeckx
Before we get down to the Untold Ref Review of the Year series (which is, I promise, coming very soon) I just want to write a little article about the world of referees as it exists in my part of the world and will give you some inside information about how things work for top referees.
This week I had the pleasure of doing a game as an assistant with one of the top referees in Belgium. And I had the chance of having a long talk with one of the most talented referees in my country. And I had the pleasure of doing a game with him.
The ref is still a very young ref (around 30) but has some 3 years of experience in the highest league. In my country they have adopted the point of view that they want to bring in the refs as soon as possible in the highest leagues so they can have a long career at that level and also can have a good international career.
And as a result this ref has been handed a Fifa badge this year. And every year Fifa organises a training camp for the fresh appointed Fifa refs. This time it was a one week training camp in Turkey. Wow nice you might say a week in a 6* hotel on the expenses of Fifa. Who wouldn’t want to have that. And even the flight to Turkey is paid by Fifa. And to make sure that the refs arrive in good shape they give tickets for business class on the plane.
Now before you start running to the nearest place where they give a referee course you might listen to how the everyday life looks of this Fifa ref. Because unlike England we have no full time professional refs in my country. They do get some fixed money but that is not enough to really make good living. So refs in my country have a day time job.
Most of the established refs have a part time job. But for young refs this is not always possible. They also have to see that they earn enough money to support their family. And only when you are a Fifa ref and start doing international games you get more money that could allow you to start working less in your day time job.
So our young Fifa ref has a full time job. That means in my country something around 38-40 hours a week. Of course we all work around that in a full time job. But being a top class referee in Belgium also means that you have to train. And this means one training session a week with the other top class referees in the afternoon. And one training session in the evening with the other top class referees of our county.
For the midday training our ref has to take some time off work and he has to make sure he works these hours later on. Or start earlier in the morning. So you can straight away see that to be a top ref in my country you need an employer that is willing to give you some freedom in your work.
And apart from that our ref also has to train almost every day on his own. And it is not that you can just pretend to train. No each ref is giving a computerised watch and device that he has to wear when he is training. And at the weekly training his watch is checked and they can see if he has trained enough and with enough intensity. And if they see that you didn’t train enough you are in trouble and you can lose your status as a top class ref.
The result is that our ref after his full time job is going on a training each day for one hour, one hour and a half. All kind of running is done. Sprints, duration, interval training it all must be done.
And after his day time job, his training on his own, or his group graining he can finally go home. It usually is around 8 pm that he arrives home. And then he still has to eat. This is the everyday life of a ref in a country where there are no professional referees. So if you still think that flying business class and staying in a top hotel in Turkey is too much for such young refs… consider the hard work that those refs have had to do to get there. And still have. Well those who are not as privileged as the German refs who are professionals. Or the English refs who are also professionals.
Finally to conclude I would like to put a myth to bed. We all say sometimes : “this ref is blind” when he didn’t see something.
Well I can assure you that a Fifa ref never is blind. You may think he is blind if he misses an obvious foul but I can assure you he IS NOT BLIND. I must admit that I never knew this before but the ref told me the story of his eyes.
Because the ref is wearing glasses in his everyday life as he needs them to look in the distance. He is short sighted. Now he wears glasses during the day but when he does a game he uses contact lenses. And when in Turkey and doing the physical tests they also had a medical check. And not just a routine medical check. No they were turned inside out almost.
And also his vision was checked, without glasses, with glasses and with the contact lenses. And those doctors checked this all and found that he still was not seeing things 100% with the contact lenses he used. And so they told him that he had to make sure that he would buy new contact lenses. And so our ref had to see a specialist and they have made special contact lenses just for his eyes only. His match contact lenses that he only uses during a game. Without those lenses he would not be able to keep his Fifa badge in the future.
The contact lenses now make sure that his vision is 100% with both eyes in all circumstances. They have cost him a lot of money to have them made. Money that he had to pay himself. But that is what you do when you want to be a Fifa ref.
Work hard as an employee, train like mad as a ref, pay a big sum for you game contact lenses. You hardly have spare time (and still he does the every week training for the other refs on a voluntary basis in my region), you can hardly have a family life. But it is the love for the refereeing and the chance to become an international ref that forces the best out of him.
So for a non-professional ref it is a hard road to become a Fifa ref. So of course I want to wish him all the best in his ref career. But believe me I never would like to see him even come close to Arsenal in his future European career that should start next month in the Europa League. Nothing personal but it would be better for him, for us, for me and for Arsenal.
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